The talent runs deeper than most years and an abundance of star power highlights the 2018 Kentucky Derby.
Justify stands front and center as the clear favorite after winning his first three starts in scintillating fashion. Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, a four-time Kentucky Derby winner who counts Triple Crown winner American Pharoah among his pupils, has labeled the Scat Daddy colt a “freak” with unlimited potential.
If everything goes right, Justify could make it look easy and head to Baltimore as the odds-on Preakness favorite. But it’s still a gambling game and supporters will be asked to take a short price on an untested 3-year-old who made his debut only 76 days earlier and broke a half-step slow in his first two starts. Foundation is more important in the 20-horse, 1 ¼-mile test than any other race in North America and Justify can prove best without me in his corner.
Mendelssohn exits an 18-length romp in his first dirt start, the U.A.E. Derby (G2), and will seek to become the first European-trained Kentucky Derby winner. Being a half-brother to Beholder and Into Mischief, the son of Scat Daddy appeared likely to try dirt when pre-entered to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) last fall, but it didn’t happen and Mendelssohn captured the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) instead.
Rumors his connections knew what they had (an individual who was lengths better on dirt than turf) and kept Mendelssohn on turf last fall to keep his Kentucky Derby odds from being bet down too low over the winter are unsubstantiated. One thing is certain: Mendelssohn displayed a high cruising speed and terrific acceleration when switching surfaces last time.
Magnum Moon also adds an excitement factor to the race, demolishing the competition in all four starts. Big and long-striding, the Malibu Moon colt has plenty of upside for Todd Pletcher, who brings confidence and a strong four-horse string to Louisville, Kentucky after scoring last year with Always Dreaming.
The cream at the top appears special but the next level distinguishes this year’s Run for the Roses.
Audible, who would have laid over the 2013 Kentucky Derby field after registering 107 and 105 BRIS Speed ratings for convincing wins in the Florida Derby (G1) and Holy Bull (G2), rates as the probable fourth wagering choice in my estimation. The New York-bred son of Into Mischief has finished strongly in all five starts and his turn of foot will offer appeal in a speed-heavy field.
That leaves Bolt d’Oro, Good Magic and Vino Rosso as the probable fifth-through-seventh choices in the wagering and it’s an imposing group.
Vino Rosso won his first two starts over maiden and allowance foes on raw ability but faltered when trying stakes competition during the winter. He’s always had the talent; it was just a matter of getting there mentally. And Vino Rosso finally turned a corner recording a convincing win in the Wood Memorial (G2). I don’t want to see him lug in like he did last time, but the improving son of Curlin brings momentum into the Kentucky Derby and I will use the Pletcher trainee on my exotic tickets.
A multiple Grade 1-winning juvenile, Bolt d’Oro returned this year in a couple of short fields with no pace. I’m not buying the assertion his Santa Anita Derby (G1) effort proves anything – the race couldn’t have set up worse for Bolt d’Oro – and I envision him moving forward off the effort if he can avoid a slow start at Churchill Downs.
Champion 2-year-old Good Magic looks like a pattern horse – his third start this year will be better than his last race, a win in the Blue Grass (G2) that netted a marginal 98 BRIS Speed rating. The stalker must avoid traffic woes and deliver an optimal performance at an extended distance, but Good Magic will be a major factor if he follows the same pattern from last fall when he crushed the competition and broke his maiden in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
To put this year’s depth in perspective, here are the fifth-through-seventh wagering choices in the last five runnings:
|2017:||Gunnevera (10-1), Patch (14-1), Hence (15-1)|
|2016:||Mor Spirit, Creator, Destin|
|2015:||Materiality, Mubtaahij, Upstart|
|2014:||Intense Holiday, Dance With Fate, Samraat|
|2013:||Normandy Invasion, Itsmyluckyday, Mylute|
This year’s field is more accomplished. Noble Indy, Enticed, Flameaway and My Boy Jack are nice performers who won qualifying races this year, and Hofburg has the looks of a possible “wise-guy” horse after recording a fast closing-second while making his stakes debut in the Florida Derby. But they’ll all be a big price given the enormous collection of talent on hand.
I’ve never been more excited for a Kentucky Derby.
I will give my selections next week.
Kentucky Derby Workouts
Kentucky Derby workouts will be streamed by Churchill Downs at 7 a.m. (EDT) daily through May 3 at multiple sources including on Facebook at www.facebook.com/kentuckyderby; on Twitter via @KentuckyDerby; on YouTube at www.youtube.com/kentuckyderby; andwww.kentuckyderby.com/works.
Presented by TwinSpires.com, the live video will include graphics and commentary. A special 15-minute session from 7:30-7:45 a.m. (formerly 8:30-8:45 a.m. in years past) is exclusive to Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks participants and any workmates. The specially-made Derby and Oaks saddle towels must be worn to gain access to the racetrack during that window.